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The Boy in the Black Suit

Review

The Boy in the Black Suit

Matt Miller’s mom is dead --- cancer. An ordinary Manhattan teenager’s world is changed forever: Matt can’t bring himself to open up his mom’s cookbook, friends are treating him oddly and he falls asleep each night listening to Tupac’s “Dear Mama” on repeat. But because he missed the first few weeks of school, he’s also lost his job for the senior work-study program. Matt’s prepared to start working at the local Cluck Bucket (think greasy chicken and gross conditions) when Mr. Ray, the funeral home director, offers Matt a job.

You’d think that Matt has had enough of death, but the job pays well and Mr. Ray is kind. School seems petty and unimportant; Matt lives for the funerals he secretly attends after his work is done. After all, who would question THE BOY IN THE BLACK SUIT? Sitting in the back row, he searches out the people closest to the deceased. When he sees them cry, it’s strangely comforting. The fact that other people are feeling the same pain he does makes him feel less alone --- and Matt does feel alone, especially since his dad has turned to drinking in the wake of the funeral.

Matt is forced to grow up. He meets a cute girl, Love (yes, that’s her real name), who understands grief. He talks to Mr. Ray, beginning to understand the funeral director’s own past pain. And somehow, slowly, Matt moves forwards in life.

 

Not many teen books have approached such heavy subjects in such a real, expert way.

Jason Reynolds’ THE BOY IN THE BLACK SUIT is alternately funny, hopeful and sad. Readers should be prepared for thick slang, which can be difficult to wade through, and occasional swearing, but on the whole, the book is an interesting one. There is a casual style to the writing that cannot mask the deep themes this novel deals with: grief and death. It also touches upon alcoholism, love and growing up, all in the realm of a New York City teen’s experiences.

I felt that this book lacked a clear conclusion. Grief is like that --- there is no cut-and-dry stop to mourning --- but the novel’s ending was disconcertingly abrupt. This, along with the constant, overbearing slang, were my two irritations, but the topics in this novel were truly fascinating. Not many teen books have approached such heavy subjects in such a real, expert wayand in such a setting. Matt’s story is worth hearing --- because at one time or another, all of us will be wearing black suits, dealing with our own pain.

Reviewed by Mary M., Teen Board Member on January 8, 2015

The Boy in the Black Suit
by Jason Reynolds

  • Publication Date: January 6, 2015
  • Genres: Young Adult 13+
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers
  • ISBN-10: 1442459506
  • ISBN-13: 9781442459502